When it comes to professional development and leadership courses, it's often the case that the most memorable learning experiences come not from the curriculum but from the interactions among the participants. That's why the most successful learning programs usually have a strong, in-person component. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited that option and forced companies to rethink how to do their training. For many organizations, the pandemic-era game plan has involved a serious pivot to varied digital learning formats (such as on-demand, self-paced, and bite-sized). Amid all those changes, though, human interaction remains irreplaceable. But what can a company do when a pandemic removes in-person learning from the equation? Should the learning and development industry simply reformat its curricula as virtual instructor-led courses? That isn't the solution. To get the highest-quality learning resources they can, organizations must remember that live learning is most effective only when used at optimal times and integrated into learners' overall journeys. They must consider certain factors to ensure that all parties involved—instructors as well as learners—are positioned to succeed. Give learners the freedom to engage The right time to offer live learning is when learners will gain value and fresh perspectives from being in each other's company. Consider the power of a simple question—especially when it draws attention to something that other participants hadn't thought of before. Such questions can take a course in new, thought-provoking directions. Here are a few examples of live learning formats that can increase engagement, even in virtual settings: Instructor-led training that encourages learners to interact and participate in polls Breakout sessions in which participants brainstorm with peers or apply what they've learned to real-world challenges Roleplaying exercises that enable learners to engage in teamwork and learn from each other's diverse backgrounds Sandboxes that provide safe spaces in which participants can experiment together Help instructors reskill for virtual formats Reskilling in-person instructors for virtual environments ranks among the biggest challenges that organizations face today. Fortunately, there are several strategies that instructors can use to improve their success as educators under current circumstances: Engage in self-paced, online courses to develop dynamic skills for presenting to live audiences. Learn how to master the company's virtual collaboration and meeting tools. (Even little things such as muting and unmuting participants can make a big difference in a learner's experience.) Put themselves in their learners' shoes by taking courses on topics outside their usual areas of expertise. Establish a knowledge baseline among learners Before hosting a live course, make sure that all of the registered participants have already taken prerequisite courses. Otherwise, less-experienced students could jeopardize the group's time with entry-level questions, or simply disengage when they realize they're far behind their peers. Some organizations attempt to enforce prerequisite policies by kicking off the class roster students who don't meet the requirements. A much more effective solution, though is to incentivize them, perhaps through some sort of gamification. For example, students who complete prerequisites could earn a prize, such as a digital badge they can show to their managers, peers, and networks. Plan courses to sustain value from human interaction Learning and development professionals also need to figure out how to replace in-person training content—a difficult task because learners (and the leaders who champion learning) are by nature social animals. An environment that enables questions, answers, and camaraderie elevates the learning experience from something valuable to something memorable. But how can companies plan their live learning experiences so that these human interactions persist beyond the course? Recurring office-hour sessions and community groups are some possible solutions. In such virtual meeting spaces, learners can continue to come together to trade insights, ask questions, support each other, and satisfy their need for social interaction. Consider how live courses fit into a blended learning strategy Remember, learning should be easy and flexible whenever possible. This is especially true in the pandemic era, as learners continue to struggle with balancing life and work. In certain scenarios, live courses and the engagement they provide fit together perfectly. But in many cases, organizations will want to choose other options (such as on-demand videos and comprehensive learning paths, for example) from their blended-learning toolboxes. Blended learning options can also be tailored to fit employees' job responsibilities and daily challenges. Companies should also consider giving learners the flexibility to learn on their terms (perhaps on a self-paced basis and in bite-sized pieces) to meet the "how," "where," and "when" criteria that work best for them. Final thoughts It will be a while before the world can return to prepandemic life. Fortunately, in the meantime, technology makes it possible for people to connect with and help each other. By putting the proper time, planning, and creativity in their virtual live-learning sessions, organizations can give their learners experiences that are not only good for their jobs and careers but also good for their souls.